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Boris's ring tunnel is going around in circles

So the mayor’s next big idea is to build a 22km long orbital tunnel around London.  At first glance this seems, well, a bit bonkers however creative and at times counter-intuitive, the solutions we need are for modern transport challenges. In terms of winning the ongoing battle against inner London congestion, a ring tunnel around the capital was probably not the first option on the table, nor will it be the last.

Politicians will have us going round in circles, literally. And at £30bn, it is going to cost the taxpayer more than a few pennies as well.

But hang on a minute.  Maybe there is something in this. If figures are to be believed, congestion in London is set to increase by 60% in the future so maybe the mayor has stumbled on a brainwave.  

Creating a new orbital route option for London is as important as managing congestion on the radial routes into and within the city centre. The lack of capacity to move around the outer edges of inner London is most definitely restricting growth opportunities and a scheme like this will undoubtedly unlock development potential. 

Controlling the number and location of entry points to the ring road will be key to making it a success and it is this element of the design that presents itself as a fantastic opportunity to use transport network planning to dictate and optimise development growth. This would be a departure from the norm, where for too long the (bad) planning practice in London has been to retrofit the transport network to meet the demands of development growth. 

History tells us successful cities that have grown organically over the centuries, cities like London, are shaped around their evolving transport networks. Not the other way round. 

In WSP’s report on Boris Johnson’s London 2020 vision we call on the mayor to be more imaginative in his transport strategy, noting that many of London’s transport routes are over capacity today – at least in the peak periods – for vehicles travelling into Central London in the morning, and out again in the evening.

We also know that congestion is one of Londoners’ biggest bug bears. Each Londoner spends an hour on average travelling around 15km a day. Spending two to three hours per day commuting is not uncommon.

Believe it or not, the London Ring Tunnel will not just potentially reduce journey times, it will create new connectivity opportunities that could be maximised by careful and considered placement of new jobs and housing. Now that’s proper planning!

To be honest, I seriously doubt if this project will get off the ground, never mind beneath it. But that’s not the point. The foresight to realise the transport network should shape successful and sustainable development growth demonstrates the way industry and politicians should be approaching the future of our country’s major growth engines. It seems the penny’s dropped! 

One final penny for your thoughts, does it have to be a road in this tunnel?  

  • Paul Speirs is WSP technical director for development

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